Sunday, November 18, 2012

Jack Schmitt holds fast to lunar vision

Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt, second from left, and Eugene Cernan press their hands down in the wet concrete at Adler Planetarium in Chicago, November 13, 2012 [Kiichiro Sato/AP].
The Canadian Press

LONDON, Ontario -- You may have to excuse Harrison (Jack) Schmitt if the former American astronaut gets itchy feet for the moon these days. It was 40 years ago next month, on Dec. 6, 1972, that he and fellow astronaut Eugene Cernan became the last humans to set foot on the lunar surface.

If the former Apollo 17 astronaut had his way, the United States would head back to the moon first, before traveling to Mars. The 77-year-old geologist, who has his eye on lunar mining opportunities, says the commercial sector could be back on the moon within 15 to 20 years.

"I think it's important to have the commercial sector of the Western world thinking about how do you not only get to the moon but what are the economic returns of doing so," Schmitt said in an interview. He sees a role for Canada whose mining industry, he says, is very active and is an important player in the global economy. Schmitt also says humankind has the ability to put "permanent" settlements on the moon within 40 years.

Talking about his own experience, Schmitt recalled moon-walking or skiing on moon dust in December 1972. "It was like being on a giant trampoline," he told The Canadian Press. "I used a cross-country skiing technique that many Canadians are familiar with and that I had learned in Norway as a student there."

Schmitt, who was also a U.S. Senator, was the last NASA astronaut to arrive on the moon, Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernan, who stepped off the module before him, was ultimately the last to walk on the moon.

Now, 40 years later, Schmitt expressed disappointment that humans hadn't returned to the moon: "I would have hoped we would have gotten back sooner."

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